"I'd like to end my Letter by extending our sincere thanks to several executives who have left Gillette, or are soon to leave."

--- James M. Kilt

Since Mr. Kilt, the new Maximum Leader at troubled Gillette, wrote this in the companies' most recent annual report--- the one with the Mach 3 razor on the cover--- we can only wonder if all the executives who were "soon to leave" were among those named in the next sentence. Perhaps there were others who had yet to be informed.

In fact, life in the suites has been particularly tough this year. I have this on the authority of William P. Dunk, an intellectual omnivore who earns his living as a management consultant. He sates some of his hunger by reviewing hundreds of annual reports each year.

To what end?

  He wants to find the main themes, the messages, and the icons of corporate America. This years' theme, he said in a recent interview, is management change. The rate of turnover in the executive suite is now so great that phrases like "new blood" are taking on a grim meaning, inclining executives to answer "wounded zebra" instead of "newspaper" when asked what's black and white but red all over?

Citing an article from the Economist, Mr. Dunk pointed out that there had been more than 100 departures from executive suites in major corporations in each month since last August. If you look up you can almost see the sky filling with golden parachutes.

So, if things are tougher at the top, Mr. Dunk is wondering, what is the purpose? There he is disappointed, concluding, "We are in a lesser period."

"One constant theme (in the reports) is that we've been on a fifteen year cost-cutting binge. But eventually you have to do something else. We're not hearing guys grapple with growth, we're (still) hearing them grapple with costs," Dunk told me.

"The problem is that we're recruiting new guys. Then they are being told to follow the old agenda. You can only do this (cost cutting) so long. Then you extinguish the company."

Are there any brighter lights?  

"GE has tried to grapple with this (low growth) by adding services. They've also been expanding abroad, with foreign sales now accounting for 40 percent of revenues."

What about other signs of hope?

He named Level 3, the upstart optical communications company, for its direct and honest accounting for stock options.

Having named GE and Level 3 as exceptions, Mr. Dunk feels that we're acting, but on the wrong basis.

"If we have to change all these guys, what's the new agenda? What should they be doing?"

I asked what he thought a new corporate leader would look like and what she would do.

•           "The first quality… is to find people that can turn on a dime                    because the proposition they start with is never the one that                  succeeds. We're looking for people who can deal with totally                  unforeseen circumstances because that's the way the world is                  today."

•           "Another characteristic is people who can manage alliances. How                  well you manage alliances is a defining question.

•           "A third thing is that people need to be seriously global--- they                  need to take a genuinely global view.

•           "But the big enchilada is that they have to be seriously growth                  oriented. On a longer term basis there has to be evidence of a                  real concern with growth."

As he sees it, very few corporate executives, including the newest arrivals, are focused on what he calls the "agenda of tomorrow"--- growing revenues. Instead, most are still tweaking, cost cutting, and consolidating.

If there was an award for "Best Idiosyncratic/Eclectic Business Website", the one Mr. Dunk and partners have created would surely win the prize. You can check it out for yourself at www.globalprovince.com. I particularly recommend a section called "Dunk's Dictums", his annual review of annual reports, and his "Agile Companies", a series of notes on companies doing things right. The annual report review for 2001 should be posted by the time you read this.

Then again, if you're inclined to poetry, try the "poetry and business" section, from which these lines were lifted:

The Corporate Type

Headhunters stalking very big game Search for tigers who, yet, are tame, Rugged types who will not bite And always say the boss is right.

--- Thomas Canning